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Film Review: The Holdovers (2023)

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★

Available in cinemas | Runtime: 2hrs 13mins


The Holdovers, a poignant reflection of the 1970s directed by Alexander Payne,

masterfully revisits an era that feels distinct from contemporary filmmaking. With the collaborative genius of Payne and Paul Giamatti, previously seen in the award-winning Sideways this film offers a refreshing departure from the typical holiday movie trope, delving into a narrative replete with complex characters and emotional depth.

Set in the 1970s at Barton Academy, the story unfolds around three unlikely companions: a cantankerous history teacher (Paul Giamatti), a misunderstood dropout student (Dominic Sessa), and a bereaved cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). The film captures the essence of the era not only through its visual aesthetics but also through its storytelling style, reminiscent of classic cinema.

Payne's direction shows a softer side compared to his more critical works like Election or Sideways. He embraces a mellow, heartwarming approach without forgoing the essential comedic elements, particularly evident in the complex relationship dynamics among the main characters. The film deftly balances the holiday spirit with underlying themes of personal growth and mutual understanding.

Giamatti's character, far from the inspirational teacher archetype, is a flawed, cynical individual, entrenched in his misery. His portrayal is a testament to Giamatti's skill, bringing depth and nuance to a character that could easily have been one-dimensional. The dialogue, delivered with precision, further distinguishes his character from typical cinematic educators.

The narrative shines in its exploration of individual struggles: the teacher's alcohol-fuelled escape from reality, the cook's mourning of her son lost in Vietnam, and the student's abandonment by his family. These personal battles are woven into the film's fabric, adding layers to the story beyond its surface plot.

The film's strength lies in its writing, brilliantly executed by the cast. It is a classic Payne film at its core, where ordinary characters, through extraordinary circumstances, confront and transcend their personal demons. The transformation of these characters, achieved through mutual influence and shared experiences, is both authentic and deeply moving.

The Holdovers is a film that succeeds in its subtlety and emotional resonance, offering a compelling narrative that is both a homage to the past and a timeless story of human connection and growth.



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